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Australia ‘deeply disappointed’ with China barley tariff as spat worsens

Jamie Smyth in Sydney and Sun Yu in Beijing

Australia said on Tuesday it may appeal against China’s decision to slap punitive tariffs on imports of Australian barley to the World Trade Organization, but said it was not interested in tit-for-tat trade war. Tensions between the two countries have escalated following Canberra’s call for an inquiry into the origins of coronavirus.

Simon Birmingham, Australia’s trade minister, said he was “deeply disappointed” by Beijing’s decision to impose duties of up to 80 per cent on barley produced in Australia for up to five years — a move farmers say threatens to cripple an A$2bn ($1.3bn) a year industry.

“We reserve all rights to appeal this matter further and are confident that Australian farmers are among the most productive in the world, who operate without government subsidy of prices,” Mr Birmingham said.

“Australia is not interested in a trade war. We don’t pursue our trade policies on a tit-for-tat basis,” he added.

China’s Ministry of Commerce confirmed late on Monday it would impose 73.6 per cent anti-dumping and 6.9 per cent anti-subsidy duties on Australian barley from May 19, saying imports of the grains had “materially damaged local industry”.

The move came less than a week after China suspended imports of red meat from four Australian abattoirs, a move which analysts said was probably linked to Canberra’s role in leading calls for an independent inquiry into the origins of Covid-19, which has killed 310,000 people worldwide.

Australia was among the most active and earliest supporters of a global inquiry into the virus with Scott Morrison, its prime minister, saying last month that “the world would want to have an independent assessment of how all this occurred, so we can learn the lessons and prevent it from happening again”.

China’s president Xi Jinping told the annual meeting of the WHO on Monday that Beijing would support a “comprehensive review of the global response” to the pandemic, but just hours later it confirmed its decision to impose tariffs on Australian barley.

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